It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last time we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘ru’ (る), focussing on ルンルン (runrun), which means ‘happy’ or ‘bouncy’. This week, I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘re’ (れ). A big thank you for the suggestions I received this week:
In the end I decided to write about…
(reberu appu suru)
‘Reberu appu suru’ (レベルアップする) is a brilliant example of ‘Wasei-eigo’ (和製英語) or ‘Japanese-made English’. Coming from the English words ‘level up’, this phrase is often used in computer games when the player reaches the next level of the game or becomes stronger.
The phrase ‘level up’ is also applied to real-life skills such as learning English. When I was teaching English in Japan my students, desperately trying to speak with correct English, would sometimes say things like “I want to level up my English”. Of course, this is not correct English, but Wasei-eigo really messes with things and creates words and phrases that seem English enough to the Japanese speaker so they don’t realise they are not correct. I was forever teaching students to say things like “I want to improve my English skills” and trying to explain that whilst I understood ‘level up’ it wasn’t really correct English.
Some Wasei-eigo is easier to interpret than others, and sometimes the meaning changes completely from the original English words. I remember being puzzled when my students referred to ‘cunning paper’ and later finding out that ‘cunning’ or ‘kanningu’ (カンニング), means ‘cheating’ in Japanese. ‘Cunning paper’, therefore, is like a ‘cheat sheet’.
There is an important difference between Wasei-eigo (Japanese words made from English words) and ‘gairaigo’ (外来語) (loan words from English or European languages), and I think sometimes even Japanese don’t know which is which. ‘Gairaigo’ is a generic term for foreign words which have been assimilated into the Japanese language (many of which have English, German, French or Dutch origins). Some examples would be ‘konpyuta’ (コンピューター ), ‘computer’; ‘arukoru’ (アルコール), ‘alcohol’; or ‘pan’ (パン), ‘bread’ (French). Basically, most gairaigo words are simply ‘katakana-ised’, or put into katakana, to make them easier to pronounce in Japanese. Gairaigo words generally come about because there is no original Japanese word for something; the foreign word is simply used instead.
Using Wasei-ego words is not an attempt to speak English – these words are Japanese words, even though they have English or European origins. Sometimes these words are a single word that has slightly changed its meaning to become a Japanese word, other times the word is a mash-up of two words which creates a brand new word. Some examples would be ‘aidoru’ (アイドル), ‘idol’ (meaning ‘pop star’, usually a musician or a model); ‘donmai’ (ドンマイ), ‘don’t mind’ (meaning ‘don’t worry about it’); or ‘oeru’ (オーエル), ‘OL’ or ‘office lady’ (meaning ‘female office worker’).
Some Wasei-ego words are even borrowed back into English, such as ‘anime’ (オーエル), from ‘animation’, meaning ‘cartoon’, or ‘kosupure’ (コスプレ), meaning ‘costume play’ or dressing up as characters from popular culture, borrowed back into English as ‘cosplay’.
Japanese is a fascinating language, isn’t it?
Next week will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘ro’ (ろ), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression (slang and dialect are fine too!), but no nouns please! I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v
Only two more weeks to go and this series will be at an end! Please join in with your ideas while you can!